Archive | October, 2010

Travel Tips

28 Oct

Learn the secret to a great French accent: To my surprise, my best accent came out when I was dead sick early one morning one week in my phonetics class.  My friends said they were expecting something awful when I had to read out loud, but it was spot on.  Secret = a throbbing head and sinuses, a stuffed-up nose, and a sore throat.  You’re welcome.

Start the day off right: Leave it up to my mom and dad to bring tailgating to France in the form of a 10:30 a.m. wine tasting (it was a Saturday morning after all).  Two bottles of good wine for a total of 10 euro, a day’s-worth of French practice, and a little buzz made for a successful stop.

Question everyday American things that now seem weird to you: A large coffee?  A to-go coffee, for that matter??  Driving a car everywhere.  Having restaurants/shops open all day.  Drive-thrus.  Cereal (very foreign to me now; seriously, what I wouldn’t do for a bowl of oatmeal…or Life).  Being carded (I have yet to have the satisfaction of proving my age).  Being in a place where people know how to walk down a street without playing chicken and walking into each other.  Mexican food.  Asian food.  Having a dryer for clothes.  Having an overhead shower (a luxury I miss).  Having soap in the bathrooms (yeah not so much here).

Remember that Sunday literally means day of rest: Good luck finding places that are open or open for very long.  In general, getting lunch after 2 p.m. is difficult in (not even much) smaller cities, but on Sundays it’s nearly impossible.  Case in point, Sunday in Nîmes with the parents.  Good thing we still had some cheese and grapes left (which is saying something since we’re kind of cheese addicts).

Always have a roll of toilet paper in the car when on road trips: Restrooms are few and far between (even in Montpellier, where their version of a “public restroom” is the McDonald’s where you have to buy something and use the receipt to get in), and if you do find a public restroom, chances are it’s a nicely-ceramiced hole in the floor.  After saying I’d do so many times this fall, I finally popped a squat, no less during our peaceful picnic lunch in the French countryside next to a canal.  Camp prepared me well for extreme traveling.

Go to the source: Roquefort cheese bought in the village of Roquefort.  The stinkier the better for us–this one came in a sealed and lined bag.  Did I mention we should be in cheese rehab at this point?

Be observant: For some reason, I have seen more look-a-likes and doppelgangers here than ever before.  Random people from school, home, even celebs–I saw Jacob Black slash Taylor Lautner.  Edward has yet to be found.

Take your time: The other day on my walk home, I stopped and joined a small crowd gathered around two street artists and, expecting some cheap parlor trick, was amazed at their skills.  They used spray paint, a square and a circle templates, and a kind of blade.  They had some fantastic finished works laying out in front of them, but I didn’t fully appreciate the talent until I saw them create an amazing painting right before my eyes using really interesting techniques.  With the simplest movements and combinations of the paints, using the templates to create layers and edges, and the effortless strokes of the blade, they made detailed and colorful surreal scenes of moons, mountains, etc.  Undeniably true artists.

Don’t be a Belge: I still have yet to figure out how to turn on the TV on my own.  It’s been almost two months.  I would call myself a blond, but here that would be a Belgian.

Know what there is to do in a city before you get there: Going on a day-trip to Sète probably would have been more fulfilling if we had looked at what there is to do or see there, but it definitely wouldn’t have been as funny.  Getting off the train and asking if any of us had brought a map or knew what there was to do brought complete silence, followed by a few hilarious hours of aimlessly wandering, trying to follow signs for the office of tourism which led in all different directions (at one intersection, there were signs pointing in 3 completely different directions).  We found it eventually…but on accident while we were trying to find a place to have a beer.  Meh.  C’est la vie.

Go international: At our usual trivia night this week at our favorite bar, we ended up with a table/team of Americans, Swiss-Germans, and French-Italians.  Though the quiz was fun (and we got 6th out of 26!), it was great enough to just talk to each other about differences and similarities in our countries.  Fun fact: there are 638 muscles in the body, and Rachel on Friends says “oh my god” the most of any character.

When you are asked if you want to go to a torture museum, the answer is ALWAYS a resounding “yes”: In Carcassonne, we toured a torture museum and spent the time split between shock and laughter.  Shock because of the horror of these tools, and laughter because of the hilarious translations of some of the placards into English and the absurdity of some of the tools (I’ll admit it was a bit childish of Mari and I to go through the exhibit laughing, but we couldn’t help ourselves–a mask “most commonly used for talkative women”?  An “instrument of torture for bad musicians”??  The “pear” used for, well, insertions and expansions–I’d like to point out that women get this done annually.  A metal chastity belt with spikes around the holes?  You can’t even make that stuff up).

Take it all in: Having your visit to a Romanesque basilica interrupted by five men standing in front of the altar and breaking into beautiful hymnal music.  Soaking in accordion music on the street.  Trying new dishes such as aligot (basically mashed potatoes with cheese that you have to pull apart–new favorite) and cassoulet (delicious bean stew with duck and sausage).  Stopping for a street musician.  Your host dad and brother giving an impromptu magic show after dinner.

Faites la grève! Actually, don’t.  But, it’s hard not to be affected by these strikes.  The French have the constitutional right to strike, and they use it!  This time around, the strikes are regarding the possible (and now passed) law to raise the retirement age by two years, making French people work until 62 years-old.  The trams don’t run as frequently, they are stopped by rioters (I waited on one train en route for 20 minutes until we moved), manifestations fill the streets, high schools strike and protest in front of the gates (les grèves are really almost a rite of passage for the French; I’m not convinced these high schoolers completely comprehend the situation), and my university–the hippie (liberal arts) uni of Montpellier–was one of only six universities in the country to shut down.  Last week the president locked down the school, and currently there are stacks of chairs filling stairwells and blockading doors to classrooms and buildings.  As my host dad pointed out, one could pull down the stacks of chairs…and yeah one could…but no one really feels up to it…and plus there are students patrolling to make sure that doesn’t happen.  In fact, I’ve heard of classes that have gotten into their rooms and commenced that were told to leave because it wasn’t safe to hold class.  No class at the Uni for the last week-and-a-half.  Zut!

In the end, know what the hell you’re talking about: Awhile back, I told a friend’s host mom after dinner that I was pregnant, rather than full.  Well, I beat that at dinner last night.  We were talking about needles and shots, and I said, “j’aime donner le sein“.  Sein is breast, and I had just said that I like to breastfeed, instead of saying that I like to give blood (sang).  Bravo, Claire, bravo.

Now it’s off to Edinburgh and Amsterdam for the fall break!

Get to see Kat, Jill, Katie, Ariel, Frank (Foley reunion!), and Jimmye!

(updated snapfish pictures–but not the most recent, I need to update it even more)

Mises à jour

4 Oct

Amazing, unbelievable breaking news: my art history professor got to class today TEN (count ’em, ten) minutes early to set up the slide projector (yep, a real-actual-live slide projector–what up 1964?) so that she wouldn’t be late.  We actually started a minute early.  Wow.  I’m still baffled.

As we Americans spend more time in France and improve our Français, we have definitely noticed a steady deterioration of our English.  Between translating and translating back, it tends to be a lot of cryptic Franglish gibberish–especially with idioms.  Exhibit A: Mari declaring, “Good minds think together.”  Come on, same thing.  Exhibit B: me claiming, “If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.”  Well, it’s true, breaking it would also be dumb.  So, right now, we’re all in limbo between two languages, unable to fluently speak either.  We suspect when we return to the States we won’t be able to communicate at all.

Hitchhiker sighted: woman in her mid- to late-twenties walking up the main road by my house with her thumb sticking out…what?  That still happens?  People still do that?  I would say she must have been crazy, but she was well-dressed and put together and didn’t seem to show any hesitation when a guy about 30 stopped and let her in.  I kind of had been getting the feeling that strangers were less generous and charitable in France than in the US (I mean, eye contact is kind of a no-no), but maybe I was wrong.  I’m not sure if this is common place in France or not, but either way, I won’t be turning in my Tram pass and hitchhiking my way around Montpellier.

Although a bit anticlimactic in the American sense of a 21st birthday, I had a great birthday and spent it with some awesome people!  And thank you Northwestern football for the exciting (maybe a little too exciting) birthday win!  I got to watch most of the game on a laptop in a British pub with wi-fi, and it was so much fun–especially since one of the girls watching with me goes to Minnesota (sorry Mari!).  Needless to say, we were getting a little rowdy toward the end.  One Frenchman came up to us telling us how baffled and impressed he was that three girls were watching American football.  He then proceeded to ask where we were from: east coast or west?  As if those were the only options.  He didn’t quite understand when we explained that we were from the center (he claims there’s nothing there).  But one of his friends did chime in and confidently and calmly say in a French accent, “Middle. West.”  He knew what was up.  Although getting a beer at the bar was no big thing, I did learn one new thing that night: margaritas here are a lot stronger–basically completely different.  I don’t recommend it.  We’ll leave margaritas to vacations in Mexico (and summers at the cabin).

Just a quick shout-out to Minnesota accents: Mari (fellow Minnesotan) and I were told by a Welsh bartender when we ordered our drinks, “You guys sound like you’re from Canada!”  Close, my friend, very close.